Michael Swan's loved ones bristle at plotter's apology

Michael Swan's loved ones bristle at plotter's apology

After a day of emotionally charged victim impact statements by loved ones of Michael Swan — the Ottawa teen murdered in a home invasion and drug robbery in February 2010 — the man who orchestrated the plot told them he's "extremely sorry" for his part in what happened.

"Every time I think about what happened I'm sick to my stomach, and I'm extremely sorry for my role," said 26-year-old Sam Tsega in Ontario Superior Court Monday afternoon.

Some of those in attendance scoffed as Tsega told them he didn't know Swan well, but "knew he was a man of character and a good man who had a lot of promise."

Tsega said he's made strides in his life since then, and thinks about the opportunities he'll have that Swan won't.

Swan, 19, was shot to death in the early morning hours of Feb. 22, 2010, when three armed men broke into his Barrhaven home to rob him. Three Toronto men were convicted of murder in the case.

Tsega, the Ottawa connection who plotted the robbery but was not present during the home invasion, was convicted of manslaughter on June 30, 2016, more than six years after Swan's death.

Prior to an earlier sentencing hearing date, defence lawyer Mark Ertel applied to have the manslaughter charge stayed because of the length of time it took to bring the case to trial.

Justice Catherine Aitken dismissed that application last Thursday. Her reasons have not yet been presented in court.

'Accept responsibility for your actions'

Earlier Monday, Swan's mother, father, brother, first cousin, then girlfriend and the father of his best friend read victim impact statements. Crown attorney Mark Moors read a statement on behalf of that friend, who was unable to be in court.

Kaitlyn Scott, who was Swan's girlfriend and was there the night of his murder, broke down as she read her statement, saying she thought her whole world had come to an end that night after watching the shooting of her "best friend and soulmate.

"There are no words that can express how devastating it feels to have lost someone with such a big heart and gentle soul in such a malicious manner."

The victim's mother, Rea Swan, said she remembered the day before her son was killed, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010, as if it were yesterday, and has remembered it vividly every Sunday since. Her son had come for dinner and left with some freshly laundered clothes, his two puppies and food to bring to a gathering of friends at his rented home to watch Olympic hockey.

She had always gotten hugs from him, but that night she didn't. She told court she remembers wanting to call out to him for a hug as he headed out to the truck, but that the words didn't come out. It was the last time she saw him.

"Any parent knows the anger they feel when someone is intentionally cruel to their child, but for someone to take your child's life, take those feelings and magnify them a thousand times and you will have some small idea of the fury that I feel," she told court.

At the end of her statement she addressed Tsega directly, turning to face him as he sat next to her in a glass-walled prisoner's box.

"You're a coward and a Judas. Accept responsibility for your actions. Tell the truth, the bible says, and the truth will set you free," she said.

Dale Swan, Michael's father, was the last to speak. He noted it was his third victim impact statement, and said the court process revictimizes victims of crimes by forcing them to speak in the presence of those convicted of the crime.

Swan said he's become cynical about the process in general, and said he often felt like it was his son who was really on trial.

"We victims of crime are at best spectators in the court system.... Any rights a victim may think they have can always be overruled by the rights of the accused," he said.

Defence seeks sentence of 6-8 years

Ertel opened his sentencing submissions by commenting on Dale Swan's victim impact statement, something he said he's never done before.

The length of time it took to bring the case to trial and sentencing was "not in anyone's interest," Ertel said.

Ertel added his client, who was also 18 at the time of Michael Swan's death and is now 26, has shown he is capable of rehabilitation by pursuing post-secondary education. Tsega had no prior criminal record and hasn't breached any of his strict bail conditions, Ertel told court.

He described the offence as being out of character for Tsega, who played varsity lacrosse, volunteered and held down a job despite having a brain injury and learning problems.

The defence is asking for a sentence of six to eight years, with two-for-one credit for the 344 days Tsega spent in pre-sentence custody.

Crown seeks 14-16 years

Moors, during his sentencing submissions, said Tsega's actions "can only be described as cold, callous and calculated."

The plot to invade Michael Swan's home early in the morning, confine him, extort information about a stash of marijuana and cash, then return to Toronto, constituted a "betrayal to his friends, to his family, to the community, to Michael Swan, to Michael Swan's family," Moors told court.

And while Tsega wasn't there that morning and didn't pull the trigger, his planning "unleashed wanton violence," Moors said.

Moors then turned his attention to the many letters written in support of Tsega. He read from a few of them, highlighting that many wrote about feeling this was a side of Tsega they had never seen before. 

Tsega's actions betrayed all of them as well, Moors said.

Citing wiretap evidence, Moors noted that Tsega had no problem attacking Michael Swan's character after the homicide, as well as attacking the three men later convicted of murder. He didn't accept responsibility and tried continually to blame everyone else.

The Crown is seeking a sentence of 14 to 16 years in prison, with no credit for the time Tsega spent released on bail, and a maximum of a 1.5-to-one credit for time Tsega spent in pre-sentence custody.

Aitken is expected to deliver her sentence Thursday at 2 p.m.